Field Notes Interview #28: Kevin Matley, Marmoset Artist
Like any healthy discipline in the life, it's all about consistency. When it comes to being a musician, developing a routine can take you down a clear-cut path to a sustainable career. Composer, Kevin Matley is living proof of this.
Matley's music is stunning, powerful and ethereal. His orchestral compositions move with so much emotion and express a beauty and awe of the world around us. Kevin's track "Fleeting" was featured in the recent film Frozen Fortress by filmmaker, Michael Sutton. The soundtrack moved with the atmospheric and magical setting of hand-built ice sculptures and elevated the mystery of the otherworldly visuals.
We sat down with Kevin and chatted about his life as an artist, how routines are critical in his artistic life and the metaphysical bond between music and emotion.
M: When did you start writing music?
KM: When I was around the age of 11 or so. My brothers had a bunch of guitars and this old Yamaha 4-track tape recorder lying around. I had written some tune (that I’m sure was very abject to the human ear) and decided the world should hear it too. I recorded it and showed it to my dad. He was a bit of a nerd like me. He used to build amps and play bass in some hippy band back in the 70’s, and won’t tell me the band’s name to this day. Anyway, he listened to the tune and then showed me the pan knobs on the 4-track and my head nearly exploded. I can distinctly remember how open the song sounded, which lead me to discover space within music. That 4-track will forever be on the Mount Rushmore of my career.
Years later I started writing more of my own music, mostly ambient instrumental stuff. I grew to love the process of turning an idea into an experience, but I felt something was missing from the equation. I felt like music could be much bigger. It could move the heart and soul further. It could go to greater depths. I ended up producing bands for a while which was fun, but was left still feeling that it lacked the emotional pull I was looking for. I came to realize that I wanted to compose my own music; cinematic to be specific. Something happens when music meets story that makes it so much better. I remember that being illuminated to me the first time I saw The Village.
In 2010 I landed my first job. It was a spec job, but it got a film on my screen and an empty pro tools session started. I was in Heaven. I made a terrible soundtrack, but it was a great introduction to working with a director and learning the process of communication, delivery, and deadlines.
A year later I started working as an assistant for Mateo Messina(Juno, Butter..) and he showed me everything from file management, time management, to spotting sessions.
Since then it’s been a whole lot of trial and error. Mostly error. But it can take decades to make a name for yourself in this industry and you gotta be in it for the long haul. Look at the top guys in Hollywood, they’re in their 50’s and 60’s.
M: What does a day in the life of a working musician look like for you?
KM: I scrape myself up out of bed around 7:30 AM and try to spend some time with my wife before the 30 minute commute to my office. I keep a pretty strict 9-6 schedule and I try to be pragmatic when I’m at work. After all, I’m there to work. It’s a labor of love, but at the end of the day I’m there to provide for my wife and I so we can buy Seahawks hats. Go Hawks.
On the days I’m writing, I try to start the day off listening to some of my favorite inspirations. I made a playlist on Spotify of compositions that move or challenge me, which mainly consists of Ólafur Arnalds, Steven Price, Johann Johannsson, and Dustin O’Halloran. I recently moved into a new space so it’s helped my ears acclimate to the new listening environment as well.
Usually toward the end of the day I end up doing some level of business development. Knocking on doors has gotten me most of my clients, including Marmoset.
M: What role do you feel music has in film?
KM: I’ve heard a number of catch phrases and quotes regarding this. I think the one I trust the most is, “In film, the dialogue and action tell us what the characters are thinking and doing; the music tells us what they are feeling.”
I’ve always had a fascination with the bond between emotion and music. There’s something profound and captivating to me about the freedom that exists within the world of writing music to motion picture. Music can become larger than life, exist somewhere in the limitless possibilities of the imagination, and at the same time serve a unique and very practical purpose. It really is true that what we do adds an emotional dimension that none of the other elements of a film can add. The challenge is putting your finger on exactly what they are feeling and then using the most appropriate palette to translate that to the viewer. Sometimes that means using styles and instruments you don’t necessarily want to use or aren’t in your wheelhouse of go-to’s. On the flip side, I’ve seen films with music where there shouldn’t be, or it’s been super off from the story, and it’s one of the most uncomfortable things I’ve experienced. Seriously, it makes me feel weird.
M: How do you feel your song complimented Frozen Fortress?
KM: I was quite surprised when I saw it. I didn’t write that song for a film. When I was writing, I was looking at some pictures I’d collected for inspiration because images tend to pull music out of me. I really like to be visually inspired even when I don’t have video or story, so generally I turn to some of my favorite photographers for inspiration. Luke Gram is one of them. Alex Strohl is another. Anyway, I was looking at dark images with very muted tones to guid the song’s instrument and tonal palette. When I saw Frozen Fortress it helped remind me that music is versatile. My propensity is to think that my scores can only go with these colors and temperatures or this lighting or this indoor setting, but that’s the beautiful thing about music; the same piece can have different facets and tell many different stories. I wasn’t planning on there being ice caves amalgamated with this song, but it just works. Great job on the filmmaker, Mike Sutton, for having that kind of vision.
M: What are you excited about for the future?
KM: I’ve been thinking about learning some new instruments. I’m excited about what new music I’ll write this year. I’m getting better at distinguishing what sounds bad. I’m hoping to make less and less imprudent decisions (from both a business and music standpoint) and continue to learn from my countless mistakes. And hopefully find out what this “impending doom of the US” is according to North Korea.